Projections and Erections
by Gregory Stephens
May 9, 2004

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As soon as I got home internet access the sexual spam began: endless ads offering pills to enlarge my penis, and varieties of black market Viagra and latter-day rhino horn potions. There was also the occasional ad offering various means of increasing breast size.

One ad I’ve gotten over and over cracked me up, and then got me to thinking. It began with the direct pitch that if you were not a superstud, your woman might leave you for an Alpha man. Women were insatiable creatures (so goes this sexual mythology), and only men who could perform like professionals in bed could hope to keep their women at home.

This was the tease that initially tickled my funny bone:

“You can be a sex machine. Finally available to the public. The supplement that made sex stars famous. Make love to her like no other man can. Over and over again, All night long!

Before she can catch her breath, mount her again and again

Pleasuring her AND YOURSELF orgasm after orgasm after orgasm.”

 In the real world, if Bubba became such a sex machine, his lady would soon show him the door. And all that goes up must come down. If Bubba wouldn’t come down in bed, his boss would bring him back to earth, after he crashed from exhaustion at work in a few days.

 But we’re not talking about the natural order of things here. As this ad says:

“Porn stars shoot an entire movie in just ONE DAY having sex! Many times with many different women! THEY WEREN’T BORN THAT WAY!”

You got that right: we weren’t born that way. But this is only a more direct statement of a persistent message of our culture: so that “YOU TOO WILL BE IN DEMAND,” you must buy (into) whatever it takes—pop pills, go under the surgeon’s knife, subscribe to the latest diet craze, buy the latest beer or car or makeup that makes us super virile and super attractive.

This ad made me think about my son Samuel, who was so fond of his penis as a toddler that he would grab it and hold it out in front of himself proudly as he scampered around the house. Leading with his penis, as it were.

Boys-to-men seem to do this naturally—point their penis at the world and assume that everyone else will be just as impressed as they are. Or bow down before it. What is it that drives us to create, or imagine, bigger penises, bigger weapons, and bigger Gods, in order to keep our women, and our enemies, from straying from their assigned place?

The personal is still the political, I thought, while watching the hyper-macho posturings in campaign 2004. This ad came to mind when a columnist scoffed at the notion that the media or the Republicans could create a caricature of Kerry as a Massachusetts liberal: "That won't work with Kerry. He has actually killed people in the name of the U.S. government, and has the medals to prove it." You can’t call me soft when I’ve killed for my country!

But the highest honor of all is killing for our God, and in this, the good Christian soldiers of the U.S. are all too similar to their enemies. Lt. General William Boykin, a self-described member of the “Army of God,” told church groups about the moment he confronted a Somali soldier. He had the blessed assurance that “my God was bigger than his.”

Fill in the blank: “My ___ is bigger than your ___.”

I am convinced that all this phallic inflation links up: big ego, bigger penis, biggest God, a military erection that just won’t quit, and the size of our enemies that we keep inflating.

So we've got bombs inscribed "Fuck You Saddam." Viewers in the propaganda state were "subjected to a pornographic spectacle, in which violence was treated like sexuality to enhance the appeal of the war to TV audiences," writes Paul Rutherford in Weapons of Mass Persuasion. It was a morally repugnant celebration of the penetration and mutilation of Iraq as the "ultimate viagra."

What do we expect our underpaid soldiers to do in foreign lands, pumped up with a belief in American pre-eminence, holding the world’s biggest arsenal, convinced that the biggest God is on their side, their ears full of the hatred for foreigners that can be heard from all too many preachers, politicians, and media bigots? Now we have the photos: American and British soldiers urinating on their captors, forcing them to masturbate, to simulate oral and anal sex. Lest we pass this off as just a male problem, women got in on the fun too.

This state of affairs put Kim Antieau to meditating on the “uncomfortable parallels” between the Bush administration and Islamic fundamentalists. “They are both fanatical in their belief that they are right, they are guided by the divine, and those who disagree with them are the enemy,” she writes. Both sides are “indoctrinating their followers with their religious and political beliefs--which are one and the same.” Now our soldiers are becoming like what we hate, torturing prisoners, and apparently going even further than soldiers of the jihad, sodomizing detainees.         

When we describe others out of hate or anger, we often unwittingly describe ourselves. This is projection—what bothers us about others is something that all the world can see in us, except we ourselves Thus you have the spectacle of Donald Rumsfeld condemning Arab media: "We are dealing with people who are willing to lie to the world to make their case." Or President Bush saying resistance to the American occupation comes from people who “hate freedom”: “It's going to take a while for them to understand what freedom is all about."    

I am afraid that “many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die” before a majority in this super-inflated superpower stop lying to themselves, and to the world. It may take an environmental catastrophe like that predicted by the Pentagon, or dramatized in the film The Day After Tomorrow, before Americans come to terms with what freedom costs, when we keep trying to foist our own unsustainable lifestyle on the rest of the world.

I think about that soldier, with his weapon in his hand, who imagined that the greatest gift we could give to the Iraqi people would be to construct shopping malls and fast food outlets, from Basra to Baghdad. And I wonder about the self-absorption of people who do not understand why not everyone wants to live like we do, or worship God by the same name, or submit to the fierce urge to mount someone or something over and over again.

“Seek good, not evil, that you may live,” said the prophet Amos. If we want to live, we must undergo “a complete revolution in worldview,” re: our tendency to seek out enemies, and to live beyond our means. Our survival requires that we “refuse to be a God,” Camus remarked. We have to learn to “recognizes limits,” Robert Jay Lifton writes in The Superpower Syndrome. The limits of our bodies, and the limits of the earth we live on, for starters. And at root, to admit the limits of our understanding of the Creator of this World, who is certainly capable of revealing His or Her will through more than one nation, language, or species.

Gregory Stephens has taught at the University of California and the University of Oklahoma, and is currently completing a book called Real Revolutionaries: Revisioning Kinship and Co-Creation. His writings and radio shows are available at: www.gregorystephens.com. Contact: gstephen@email.unc.edu.

Other Articles by Gregory Stephens

* Heartland Morality, American Politics